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TEXT: II Kings 5:1-27
SUBJECT: Elisha #10: The First Shall be Last and the Last Shall be First
There once was a general in Syria whose name was Namaan. Namaan was a mighty man of valor, but he was also a leper.
On one of his raids into Israel, he captured a girl and gave her to his wife. The girl was a good servant, I suppose, but that's not why she's in the story. When she heard of her master's illness, she told his wife that there was a prophet in Israel who would heal him. No, he wasn't a doctor or a magician, but the Lord was with him, and the Lord had both the compassion and the power to heal the incurable disease.
When Namaan got the news, he was happy. He went to his king, asking permission to find his cure in Israel. The king let him go and sent a letter with him, explaining why he had come. When the king of Israel read the letter, he was horrified! Obviously the king of Syria was looking for a quarrel, because nobody could cure leprosy. Fearing a war he was not ready to fight, the king tore his clothes and sat in sackcloth and ashes.
When Elisha heard of it, he sent his man to find out what was wrong. When he found out what it was, he sent his man back to the king with a message: Send the leper to me.
Namaan hurried to Elisha's house, full of hope. But his hope was soon disappointed. For he didn't meet Elisha at all, but only his servant who had a message for him: Go dip in the Jordan River seven times and you'll be fine.
Generals are not used to being talked to this way! He was son angry at the prophet and so scornful of his word, that he yanked his chariot around and tore off for home. But before he got too far, his servants asked him a question,
If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then when he says to you, wash and be clean?
Namaan hadn't thought of it that way. Had the prophet told him to fast for forty days or walk to China, he would have done it in a snap. So, why not wash and be clean? What has he got to lose?
He rides down to the Jordan, takes off his clothes and dips himself in the muddy water. The first time he does it.nothing. The second time.nothing. Third, fourth, fifth and sixth times.nothing. But when he comes up from the last dip, he leprosy is gone and the old man has got the skin of a newborn baby.
Namaan rides back to the prophet's house to apologize for his pride and to offer him a gift and what a gift it was: ten new suits, a thousand gold coins, and 1200 pounds of silver! But the man can keep his money; Elisha doesn't want it.
Before he leaves, though, Namaan has one more request. Can he take home a pile of dirt? Sure, take all you want. And one more thing: Will the Lord pardon me when I accompany my master into the Temple of his god, Rimmon?
Yes He will. Go in peace. Off he goes.
If the story ended here, it would be one of the happiest stories in the Bible. But it doesn't end here. Elisha's servant, Gehazi, has been standing by and getting madder by the minute. What in the world is Elisha thinking? We could be rich if he weren't so stupid!
After Elisha goes back inside, Gehazi hotfoots it after the Syrian chariot. When he catches up to it he tells a story about his master changing his mind about the money. He need a couple of suits, and oh, throw a silver talent too. Namaan is happy to oblige, in fact, he gives him two talents of silver. Gehazi squirrels it away where his master will never find it.
But prophets have an annoying habit of seeing things other men don't. While Gehazi was sneaking off to Namaan and hiding his loot, Elisha has been watching him in a vision.
Do you want what Namaan has? Fine you can have it all: his suits, his silver--and his leprosy! Gehazi leaves his master,
Leprous and white as snow.
That's the story. Now, let's go over it a bit and find out what it was saying to the People of God back then, and what it means to us.
The main character in the story is Namaan, who was not an Israelite, but a Syrian. For many years, Syria had been Israel's worst enemy-and still was. In the next chapter, for example, the Syrians laid siege to Samaria and nearly starved the city to death.
But not only was he a Syrian, Namaan was also the commander of the Syrian armed forces. If the king had ordered the attacks, Namaan had carried them out, killing many Israelites and taking many more into slavery. What if Field Marshall Hermann Goerring had come to Washington in 1943? Do you think he would have gotten a hero's welcome? If Osama Bin-Laden turned up at Kaiser Fremont, do you think all the doctors would think it a privilege to care for him?
The Jews felt this way about Namaan. In Israel, he was Public Enemy Number One!
If Namaan was a mighty man of valor, he was also a leper. Leprosy is an incurable disease that results in a slow and painful death. It was common back then, and everyone feared it. Especially the Israelites. For to them, leprosy was more than a disease.
And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 'When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body a like a leprous spore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of the sons of the priests. The priest shall look at the sore on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of the body, it is a leprous sore. Then the priest shall look at him and pronounce him unclean' (Leviticus 13:1-3).
The word to emphasize is 'unclean'. The leper was unclean-not 'dirty' like a man digging all day in the hot sun, or 'contagious' like a man with tuberculosis; he was religiously polluted. An unclean man could not worship the Lord or live among His people.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Command the children of Israel that they put out of the camp every leper' (Numbers 5:2).
This is what Namaan was: An unclean man! Unclean because he was a Gentile; unclean because he was an enemy; unclean because he was a leper. You can't get uncleaner than Namaan!
But God is for the unclean!
Under the Old Covenant, He had ways of cleansing them and bringing them back into His fellowship. Most of the time, He did it by way of a sacrifice and a ceremonial bath, but not here: Here, in the story of Namaan, He did it by a miracle. What was the miracle? We think of his healing, of course, but this is not what caught the attention of the first readers.
Here's how we read the last part of v.14,
'AND HIS FLESH WAS RESTORED LIKE THE FLESH OF A LITTLE CHILD and he was clean'.
But the people who first read the story-and the man who wrote it-capitalized the other words,
'And his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child AND HE WAS CLEAN'.
'Clean' means acceptable to the Lord! Think about it: A Gentile, an enemy, and a leper becomes acceptable to God without converting to Judaism, being circumcised, observing the dietary laws, or keeping the Feasts of Israel.
The cleansing of Namaan was more than skin-deep. As soon as he came up from the muddy waters, he went back to the prophet a changed man. Cleaner on the inside than on the outside.
His profession of faith is breathtaking! He doesn't say he now believes in the God of Israel or that he believes the God of Israel is greater than the gods of Syria. No, he says far more than this,
Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.
How do we account for his theology? Of course he hadn't studied the Bible and, paganism allowed him to believe in many gods, without giving offense to any of them. There is only one answer. His faith was the direct gift of God.
Scholars have given us many arguments for the existence of God, but the best they can do is make Him.probable. But that's not good enough-believing there probably is a God and that's He probably the God of the Bible. We don't get the full knowledge of God out of arguments, out of books, or even out of Holy Scripture. We get it straight from the Lord Himself!
Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?
Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
But who do you say that I am?
You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.
The first fruit of knowing the Lord is saying you know the Lord. And you know Him, not because you've reasoned up to Him, but because He has revealed Himself to you.
The second fruit of knowing the Lord is a desire to serve Him. Namaan was an officer in the Syrian army, and he wasn't free to stay with Elisha. But he also wasn't free to just go on his merry way! He wanted to give something to the Lord, not to buy His favor, but to thank Him for it.
The gift wasn't required of him; there was no law demanding so many gold coins, so many pounds of silver and so many suits of clothing. It was a generous and free gift, the New Testament word is.Hilarious!
This is what the Lord wants of us. We often obey Him grudgingly, doing the least we can get away with. But look at the man in our story! A Gentile with no knowledge of the Bible, cleansed no more than a hour or two before, offering rich gifts from the heart. Wanting to do-not the least he can do-but the most!
Does he remind you of anyone? I thought of a wee little man. Saved from a life of crookedness and money-grubbing, Zacchaeus straight away says,
Lord, half my goods I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone, I will repay him four-fold!
But, of course, the general and the publican were rich men, and you and I are not. Yet if ever got any grace in our hearts, we would do-on our scale-what they did on theirs. Mary of Bethany, as far as we know, wasn't a millionaire, but look what she did,
Then Mary took a pound of very costly spikenard, and anointed the feet of Jesus.Then Judas Iscariot said, 'Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor'.
Judas was a crook, of course, but the men who agreed with him weren't. James and John, Peter and Andrew, and the others were honest men, guilty of the great sin of being.practical. They too thought Mary had wasted her money on Christ. But she knew better. Like the Psalmist, she would sing,
What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits to me?
And so our story should end, with a Gentile, filled with joy and praise for the Lord God of Israel. But it doesn't end there.
Gehazi is Elisha's servant, and perhaps the man he has chosen to succeed him in the prophetic office. In any event, he knew Elisha's example, had seen the miracles, and heard the Word of God.
But the Word did not sink in with him. He sneaks off for the general's money and ends up with his leprosy. This is the punch line of the story.
When a devout Jew heard the story he knew that God is no respecter of persons. If a Gentile lives like a Jew, God accepts him. But if a Jew lives like a Gentile, the Lord rejects him.The story, therefore, is a warning to Israel. Covenant privileges are not enough. The Israelite must know the Lord and serve Him. Physical circumcision won't do; their hearts need circumcising, and only the Lord can do this. That's the message an Old Testament reader got out of our story.
It says the same thing to us. With our great privileges go great responsibilities. Knowing the Law isn't enough; the doers of the Law shall be justified. Knowing the facts on Christ won't do; we have to know Christ Himself.
As important as this is, however, it is not what the story is about. For us, the story is about hope. If men like Gehazi are cut off from Israel, then men like Namaan are folded into the People of God. With the coming of Christ, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
You see this in the ministry of our Lord. He didn't go to the saints in Israel, but to the sinners. For the saints didn't think they needed Him, while the sinners knew they did. And so He came to fulfill the prophecy, and preached Good Tidings to the poor, proclaimed liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
This last part may be misread. The Acceptable Year of the Lord is Jubilee, the Fiftieth Year, when the silver trumpets blew, and slaves went free, debts were canceled, and farms returned to the men who lost them.
These are the people Christ came to call: the ones who never had a claim on God. Paul calls them,
Aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the Covenants of Promise, without hope and without God in the world!
But these are the ones our Lord came looking for; these are the ones He died for. These foreigners, strangers, scattered all over the map have become-and are becoming-the people of God.
Namaan, therefore, stands for the whole world, a world enslaved to the self, sin, and Satan. But now set free by the Word of God, by the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ.
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